Office of the President

May 6, 2019

The Population Health Initiative, three years in

Ana Mari Cauce

Three years ago, our community launched the Population Health Initiative, an effort to consolidate our extensive expertise and maximize our collective impact to improve the health and well-being of all people. As we knew then, and remain well aware, making an impact of that scale and magnitude is not easy or lightly undertaken. While this wasn’t new work for us, it was an acknowledgment that truly improving health and well-being for whole communities and populations will require efforts across a range of disciplines and actions, with a focus on identifying our strengths and partnerships and learning from what we can do together.

Our Population Health Initiative is grounded in the knowledge that healthy people enjoy more than freedom from illness and disease – they also have access to clean air, water and green spaces and they benefit from social and economic justice. Moreover, this effort is not the UW’s alone; we are proud to serve as catalyst and convener and to bring our vision, passion and expertise to partnerships with the immense constellation of public health and service organizations in our region and around the world.

We made this commitment knowing it will take decades for this effort to fully manifest, but along the way, we will take the opportunity to measure our progress, both to acknowledge milestones and ensure that we remain on the right path. On the third anniversary of the initiative’s launch, I’m pleased to share a few noteworthy updates on the outstanding work, led by the initiative’s executive council, comprising faculty across a wide range of disciplines.

If you’ve been to the UW’s Montlake campus recently, you’ve seen the population health building, which broke ground just over a year ago, taking shape. Thanks to a transformative gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as funds earmarked by the Washington Legislature, the building is expected to open in summer 2020. I’m excited to see how this new space will open up new avenues of interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation with disciplines across campus and especially among the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Department of Global Health and portions of the School of Public Health who will share the space.

Since being named the UW’s chief strategy office for population health last June, Professor Ali Mokdad, an internationally respected convener and visionary, has provided the strategic direction for the initiative’s work. Other faculty-focused efforts include the award of three new faculty positions focused on population health that are in the final stages of recruitment. We have also awarded six pilot research grants in our 2019 round of funding for interdisciplinary collaborations to address the grand challenges identified by the executive council in collaboration with faculty, students and staff from across our campuses. You can learn about the status of the eight projects funded in 2018 here, and the final reports for the five 2017 projects are available here. Across our campuses, interdisciplinary networking and collaborations are blooming.

The initiative has also created numerous opportunities for students to get involved including a new fellowship in applied research and another in social enterprise that will be piloted this summer. Undergrads can learn about population health through First Year Interest Groups and through two general studies courses featuring a series of faculty lectures about disaster research and population health research more broadly. Soon to come will be a new Honors course about the role of social enterprise in addressing population health challenges.

At the heart of this endeavor is partnerships, because only through collaboration can we hope to achieve meaningful, scalable and long-term outcomes. The initiative has partnerships underway with King County, on maternity and infant care, and with Washington state to support development of a roadmap for improving health across the state. And partnerships are in the works far from the UW, including with the Aga Khan Development Network and Sweden’s Karolinksa Institutet.

As we go forward, I remain excited by our progress and potential for impact. Our community’s enthusiasm for this initiative continues to inspire me and all of the passionate and dedicated people leading this effort. We have a long road ahead, but our vision and our path are clear.